Nate Oman has tried to explain how change does (and perhaps should) occur in the the Mormon Church. While I find his historical analysis somewhat flawed, his real problem is his inability to recognize the arrival of modern technology, mainly the Internet.
Nate argues that there was a need for slow change when it came to LDS Church giving the priesthood to blacks. He makes the argument that slow (or seriously delayed) change was necessary so as not to offend the conservative base of the church. Many commenters have rightly noted that to preserve the conservative base, LDS leaders alienated and lost many potential future black members and many of its more progressive members. It also abdicated the moral high ground.
The type of glacial change that was associated with the black being given the Priesthood is no longer possible. The reason for the this is the Internet, and the social media associated with it. The LDS Church has demonstrated that it can make change (or at least clarify and fine tune) its doctrine, beliefs, and practices in near real-time. There have been several example over the last year or so:
- Because of backlash from comments made by Prof. Randy Bott, we now know that the Priesthood ban had nothing to do with the curse of Cain (or Ham). Unfortunately, LDS Church leaders still haven’t explained why blacks were denied the Priesthood, but at least we have put to rest one silly hypothesis. The next step is probably to state that the ban was an historical problem and not a doctrinal one.
- Because of an NBC news magazine show, we now know that caffeinated cold drinks are okay. Since I like Coke, this was an encouraging development. But again it left several questions unanswered. For example, is the Word of Wisdom really a health code? (Coke, Pepsi, and Mountain Dew are probably much worse health-wise than coffee or tea, particularly green tea.)
- Because of the “wear-pants” Sunday (tomorrow Dec 16), the LDS Church PR/PA folks have stated that its okay for women to wear pants to church as long as they are dressy. But again this clarification raises additional issues. In church’s statement, they invoked the name of Christ. But does Christ really care what we wear to worship services? (Sam Brunson has a very touching post on this subject in timesandseasons.org.) Do African really need to dress up like western businessmen to attend church?
- Because of the backlash from Prop 8 and internal objections (and Mormons participating in gay parades), Church leaders have certainly made decisions related to how they plan on addressing GLBT issues in the future. For example, they stayed out of gay-related debates and referendum issues in the most recent elections. And have a somewhat more gay-friendly website. Ultimately, LDS Church leaders are going to have to decided if the gay-marriage issue is really where they want to draw their line in the sand.
Using the Internet and other resources, many frustrated Mormon groups have been able to change the climate in Mormonism. Feminists, civil rights proponents, progressive Mormons, scientists, etc. have been able to make their case to a much wider forum. And they have been able to linkup with like-minded individuals.
You might argue that all the changes (clarifications) mentioned above are comparatively minor, but we need to remember that they all happened in a relatively short time span. They have also emboldened many who seek changes in the way gays, women, minorities, and progressive members are treated in the Church.
Changes (or clarifications) are going to be coming at a much greater speed, instead of at the slow pace that Nate Oman seems to be advocating. Some issues are going to have to be resolved in near real-time.